4 Herbs to Relieve Menstrual Cramps

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Menstrual cramps are the result of contractions of the uterus, causing aches, pain, throbbing, and spasms in the pelvic area and lower abdomen. The cramps are thought to be caused by the build-up of hormones called prostaglandins during the early part of the menstrual cycle.

ginger tea

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Menstrual cramps are often treated with over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers like Tylenol (acetaminophen), Advil (ibuprofen), or Aleve (naproxen). Other people find relief by placing a heating pad or hot water bottle on the lower tummy or taking a warm bath. While useful, these treatments work better for some people than for others.

This article explores some of the natural remedies that people may try to treat menstrual cramps as well as what the current research says.

Ginger

Some people believe that ginger can ease menstrual cramps by reducing inflammation and the production of pain-causing prostaglandins.

According to a study published in the Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, people with menstrual cramps who took a 250-milligram (mg) ginger supplement four times daily had the same level of pain relief as those who took Advil. Each group was treated for three days from the start of their period.

Another study in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine reported that 60 people given a ginger root powder for five days had better menstrual cramp relief than 60 people given a placebo ("sugar pill").

Despite these findings, a Cochrane review of studies concluded that the quality of studies was poor. Of the studies reviewed, some reported benefits while others did not.

Fennel

Fennel is an herb with a licorice-like taste and celery-like crunch. It contains a compound called anethole that is believed by some to relieve spasms.

A 2013 study from Iran found that a fennel extract combined with an extract of the Vitex agnus cactus worked as well as a prescription drug called Ponstel (mefenamic acid) in relieving menstrual cramps.

A total of 105 women were included in the study, half of whom were given the combined extracts and half of whom were given a placebo. The researchers were unable to say which of the two extracts was more active.

Despite the findings, a Cochrane review in 2016 said the quality of research involving fennel and menstrual cramps was very low.

Chinese Herbs

Traditional Chinese herbs are commonly used to treat different menstrual problems. They are usually combined into specific blends that can vary from one practitioner to the next.

Some studies suggest that Chinese herbs may actually help. According to a Cochrane review published in 2008, Chinese herbs were able to relieve menstrual cramps better than OTC painkillers.

The review included 39 studies and a total of 3,475 women. Most were given a formula with five or six different herbs, including popular ones like angelica root, fennel fruit, licorice root, cinnamon bark, and red peony root.

Although the researchers said that the results were "promising," they noted that the quality of the studies was mostly poor.

Chinese Herbs for Menstrual Cramps

Among the most common Chinese herbal remedies used to treat menstrual cramps are:

  • Dang Gui Shao-Yao San, which contains angelica root and red peony root
  • Xiao Yao San, which contains licorice root, ginger root, and white peony root
  • Jia Wei Xiao Yao San, which contains the same ingredients as Xiao Yao San plus peony root bark and gardenia fruit

Pycnogenol

Pycnogenol is a registered trademark of a French extract containing maritime pine bark. A 2008 study in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine suggested Pycnogenol could reduce pain and the need for OTC painkillers in women with menstrual cramps.

The Japanese study involved 116 people, half of whom were given a daily 60-mg dose of Pycnogenol over two menstrual cycles, while the other half was given a placebo.

Another study in 2014 reported similar results among women on oral birth control who used Pycnogenol for three months. While only 24 people were involved in the study, 27% of those on Pycnogenol were said to be pain-free compared to 0% on the placebo.

As with the other studies, however, a 2020 Cochrane review found no evidence that Pycnogenol had any benefit in treating menstrual cramps.

Summary

Of the herbal remedies used to treat dysmenorrhea (menstrual cramps), ginger, fennel, Chinese herbs like Dang Gui Shao-Yao San, and the trademarked supplement Pycnogenol are four that have undergone clinical trials.

Despite promising results, the quality of the studies is generally poor and there is no clear proof that any of the herbal remedies help. Further quality research is needed.

A Word From Verywell

If you're considering using herbs (or other forms of alternative medicine) for menstrual cramps, it's important to talk with your healthcare provider first to weigh the pros and cons.

If you have severe menstrual cramps, it could be a sign of problems that need to be explored by your healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the best herb for menstrual cramps?

    There is no "best" herb for relieving period pain. Some work better for some women than others. Common herbal remedies to ease menstrual cramps include: 

    • Angelica root
    • Chamomile
    • Cinnamon bark
    • Dandelion
    • Dang Gui Shao-Yao San
    • Fennel and fennel root
    • Ginger
    • Jia Wei Xiao Yao San
    • Licorice root
    • Peppermint
    • Pine bark extract (Pycnogenol)
    • Raspberry leaf
    • Red peony root
    • Xiao Yao San
  • What can relieve menstrual cramps naturally?

    You can relieve menstrual cramps by using a heating pad or hot water bottle or by massaging the lower abdomen. Some women find that rubbing certain essential oils on the lower abdomen helps, including:

    • Cinnamon
    • Chamomile
    • Clary sage
    • Copaiba
    • Cypress
    • Eucalyptus 
    • Ginger
    • Lavender 
    • Peppermint
    • Rose
    • Ylang-ylang
  • Can chamomile tea relieve period cramps?

    Possibly. Research shows that chamomile can reduce the pain of menstrual cramps better than a placebo. In addition, chamomile has been found to alleviate mood symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS). 

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12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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